Imagine seeing a friend or a loved one overdosing from an opioid. Naloxone is a drug that can cure an overdose in an emergency, and it is being distributed all over the state, including Coconino County.
Candice Koenker, the program manager for the Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention and Crisis Response Program, said this program aims to reduce the number of overdoses in Coconino County. They do this by providing services and treatment, including distributing Naloxone. However, despite those efforts, Koenker said opioid overdoses are still on the rise in the county.
“Our program is still too new to have a large impact,” Koenker said.
Koenker said they have been distributing since November 2017, but distribution was slow to start. To date they have administered about 50 Naloxone kits. Additionally, they have also given about 25 kits to Flagstaff pharmacies so that they can distribute it to clients who can’t afford a prescription.
Koenker said demand seems to come in waves. She said Trish Lees, a spokeswoman for the Coconino County Public Health Services District, promoted their service on their Facebook page and interest increased. Koenker said they also give away Naloxone during community events.
The program receives its Naloxone from a distributor, Sonoran Prevention Works. According to Courteney Wettemann, an overdose prevention coordinator with SPW, they deliver Naloxone kits all over the state and began distributing around 2014.
They make regular trips to Coconino County for outreach and trainings. From January 2017 to January 2019 they distributed 95,706 kits, resulting in 6,382 reported reversals.
“This is a conservative number because not every reversal is reported to us,” Wettemann said.
Wettemann said their goal is to end deaths from opioid overdoses -- four Arizonans die of an overdose every day.
“The opioid epidemic is absolutely ravaging America right now,” Wettemann said. “Many deaths happen in personal residences, and we believe Naloxone is important to have as part of a first aid kit.”
Wettemann said demand is increasing because people are becoming more educated about the risks of overdoses and how widespread it is. She hopes that demand will plateau when everyone has a kit.
Wettemann said SPW distributes kits to law enforcement as well. Officers with the Flagstaff Police Department have these kits, and according to FPD spokesman Charles Hernandez, each patrol vehicle has been equipped with a kit containing Naloxone since 2017. Hernandez said that there were only two incidents where officers needed to use Naloxone, and both times it was successful.
“It gives us a window of time to help the person until the medics get there,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said when medical personnel arrive, they assess if additional doses of Naloxone are required or if other lifesaving methods are needed.
Hernandez said officers participate in a four-hour training on recognizing the signs and symptoms in someone who may have been subjected to an opioid overdose. At the conclusion of that training, they are certified to start administering the Naloxone.
Koenker said having police departments carrying Naloxone has impacted the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses, adding that there are no concerns of Naloxone indirectly promoting drug use by providing a safety net for users.
“There’s no real evidence that people who use opioids are encouraged to use more recklessly or even more often,” Koenker said.
Koekner said the biggest threat to users right now is fentanyl, an opioid even more potent than heroin. According to Koekner, a lot of illegal drugs contain fentanyl in Arizona and across the country. She said having a safety net is important because someone is more likely to overdose if their drug is laced with fentanyl.
Naloxone is distributed to a wide variety of people, including those who illicitly receive drugs and people who are prescribed opioids from their doctor. Patients are recommended to carry Naloxone if their prescription has a high dosage of opioid, or if it’s being taken with another prescription drug that may cause a reaction.
Koekner said doctors will often prescribe Naloxone for an individual who is being prescribed opioids.
“That can be very expensive, and insurances vary on how much of the cost they will cover, but it can cost $80 to $100 and they just can’t afford that,” Koekner said. “They come in here and get Naloxone free of charge, and we have had people who said their doctor recommended that they come to the health department.”
Hernandez recommended that individuals carry Naloxone in case of an emergency.
“I would definitely advise people to be as prepared as they can to deal with emergency situations,” Hernandez said.